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101DIYfurnitureUpholstery Basics

upholstery basics: dining chair do-over

by Amanda Brown


Welcome back to Upholstery Basics, where we’ll be rolling up our sleeves and completing our first project together: a wrap-around seat. Of all seating, dining room chairs get the brunt of the abuse — a little vino here, red sauce there. If you’ve been glaring at those chairs and wondering how to give them that much-needed facelift, read on, and you’ll be transforming those eyesores into jaw-droppers in no time. —

Read the full post on reupholstering dining chairs after the jump!

Materials

  • goggles
  • gloves
  • clamps
  • pliers
  • staple remover
  • stapler
  • foam (denser is better for seats)
  • permanent marker
  • carving knife
  • cotton batting
  • Dacron
  • fabric
  • white or yellow chalk
  • straight edge/ruler
  • scissors
  • regulator
  • dustcover
  • cardboard tack strip
  • air blower attachment

Don’t forget to check out Upholstery Basics: Tool Time to learn more about the tools we’re using today.

Instructions

1. Remove the seat from your chair frame by unscrewing the screws on the underside. If your seat drops into the frame, like mine, you may be able to pop it out without unscrewing it. Make sure to mark the orientation of the seat before removing. It may seem obvious, but it is imperative that we know which side is the front when we attach the fabric later.

2. Strip all of the old fabric, padding, staples and tacks off of the seat using your pliers and staple remover. Once you’re finished, you should be left with a wooden board. This is a good point to mark any screw holes, so you can avoid them as you attach new padding and fabric.

3. Flip the board upside down on top of the foam and trace the outside edge with a permanent marker.

4. Use the carving knife to cut out the shape. Don’t worry if the edges get a little ragged looking. Just do your best to keep the blade straight up and down and not angled to one side or the other.

5. To create a slight domed shape to the seat, place a layer of cotton batting about an inch inside the edges of the board. Add extra layers if you’d like the crown of the seat to be more exaggerated. Just remember to make each additional layer of cotton slightly smaller than the one that precedes it.

6. Attach the foam to the board by stapling through the side of the foam and down into the wood. It’s best to work in opposites as you staple, so start with the back side and then move to the front. Then staple from the right to left side. Be careful not to push the foam back as you staple. We want the hard wooden edge to be padded, so it won’t show through the fabric.

7. Dacron will smooth out all of the imperfections and be the final layer of padding before the fabric. Once the foam is secured all the way around, tightly wrap Dacron around the edge and staple to the bottom of the board.

8. Trim off the excess Dacron gathered at the corners and around the bottom.

9. Now it’s time for the fabric! If you’re working with a pattern, decide where you’d like it placed on the seat. The rule of thumb is to place the top of the pattern at the back of the seat and the bottom of the pattern at the front of the seat.

10. To get started, staple the fabric at the back of the seat, but only put the staples in halfway by lifting one side of the staple gun up at an angle. These are called sub-staples and will allow you to pull them out very easily should you need to make adjustments. Once you’ve stapled the back, move on to the front. Then sub-staple the right and left sides.

11. Make a pleat in every corner by pulling the fabric from the sides around to the front and back. Fold under enough of the excess fabric to make the edges of the folds flush with the corners. Feel free to cut out bulky excess if you’re having trouble getting it all folded under the pleats, and use your regulator to get the fabric neatly tucked in.

12. Once you’re happy with where your fabric is placed, take out your sub-staples a few inches at a time and replace them with permanent staples that go in all the way. These will need to be closer together to make sure all the fabric is held down tightly. Keep a close eye on the edge as you go. The more consistent you are with the tightness of your pull, the smoother the fabric will look. Another tip: Pull with your palm instead of your fingertips to avoid puckers and dimples.

13. It’s looking like a finished seat now! After you’ve cut off the excess fabric, permanently staple the dustcover to the front side of the seat.

14. Then add a strip of cardboard tack on top for reinforcement.

15. Fold the dustcover over the tack strip toward the back of the seat. This is called a blind tack. Fold under the raw edge and staple to the back of the seat. Once you have the back secured, fold under the sides and staple.

16. If you have a seat that screws onto your chair frame, clear any holes of padding, fabric or dustcover and attach it to the chair. Use your blower attachment to dust off your chair, and you’re finished!

Wrap-around reminders:

  • If you’re redoing multiple chairs, number the seats and the chair frames so you can easily match them up after they’ve been upholstered.
  • Remember to wear your safety goggles, and gloves are great for protecting your hands when stripping.
  • Clamp your board to a solid table to keep it from moving around as you strip.
  • Screws can easily get wound up in padding, fabric and dustcovers, so keep the screw holes clear to make assembly easy at the end.
  • Use sub-staples first when attaching your fabric, so you can easily make adjustments.
  • Make a note of where the padding was originally. With drop-in seats like mine, you may need to check your seat after every step to make sure it still fits in the frame. If it’s getting too tight, reduce the amount of padding around the sides of the board.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out Grace’s inspired wrap-around chair on the . Even the smallest project can make the biggest difference. See you next month!

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Comments

  • This is a great tutorial! Thanks for adding the dustcover steps as well – that little detail really adds quality points. I absolutely love the fabric you used, too!

  • Where did you get this CUTE fabric? Any recommendations for fabric sources? I’ve looked for upholstery fabric in the past and haven’t been able to find a lot of cute options.

  • Wow! What a great tutorial! I’m so happy to learn all about the padding options! I knew there were tricks to making the cushion comfy. Can’t wait to try this one out! :)

  • I had no trouble with seats, but I tried to also do the upper back part of a chair–same shape as the one in the photo, just upholstered–and it was so hard! As well as only semi-successful. Any tips on doing a curved back?

  • This is such a dumb and random question but I am not sure where else to post it so I’m going with the Basics. I am in the process of trying to learn how to be a diy-er. Yes, I am that far behind. Anyways, I have a second bedroom that has to serve a lot of purposes, including my new found love of sewing, and I was wondering if we could see some craft / sewing spaces as well as get some storage tips from the pros (you ladies). I’m currently all over the place. Thanks and keep up the great work. One of these days I’ll be attempting to tackle upholstering and have you to thank.

  • Does anyone have any recommendations for where to get cute vinyl/oilcloth fabric for covering chair seats? I have three kids four and under and fabric wouldn’t last. Thanks for the tutorial!

  • Hi All!
    The Hotel St. Cecilia poster is a limited edition print by Noel Waggener of Subculture Press: . It’s such a wonderful piece!

    The fabric is a Robert Allen Halmstad in Ruby.

    Val, curved backs generally require some seams to release the fabric as it curves. We’ll eventually get there with Upholstery Basics, so just stay tuned!

    JS, several months ago, we shot a pilot episode: . There are some shots in there of our workshop that may be useful. Hope that helps!

    Liz and Rory Jean, we carry many fabrics at Spruce that are super cute! You can check out the fabric part of our website for many of the brands we carry. We can also have any fabric “vinylized”, so that may be a good option for you, Rory Jean.

    Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone!

  • Yes I love the fabric as well. it looks a bit like bark cloth, is it vintage or new? Please tell us where you sourced it.

  • Now I know where to start, Just the tutorial I needed, I’ve been planning to fix the chair my kids enjoyed ripping to shreds=) I just couldn’t get my hand on it to start, and I can’t get a help from hubby cause’ he doesn’t like the frame as much as i do.

  • Great tutorial! I’ve done some simple upholstery before and still felt like I learned a lot. I’m looking forward to more posts!

  • Thanks for this great tutorial. I enjoy doing stuff around my house on my own. I´m going to try this next weekend. Hope I won´t cut of my fingers :-).

  • Love the tutorial. Hoping it won’t be too long before you cover more dining room chairs that have a cutout in the back of the seat that fit around the vertical back pieces:-) I’ve got the leather already……..

  • My husband recently attended your upholstery class here in Austin. He had nothing but great things to say about the class and especially the Spruce team. We love our new chair! This tutorial is very comprehensive and motivates me to start up a little upholstery competition in our household. Thank you!!

  • Amanda- Great video. Thanks for posting it. Your workspace might be a little too much for a working-towards-becoming-a-diy-er second bedroom but it was amazing non-the-less. I wish I lived in Austin. Your shop looks like a great place to work. I would come and volunteer for free until I learned enough for you to hire me!

  • Could you give an indication of how much fabric you used? I’ve got eight chairs to recover, very similar to yours, and want to know if I can use awesome (read: expensive) fabric or the yardage required means I need to go cheaper.
    Thanks!

  • I just reupholstered my dining room chairs with this exact fabric two weeks ago! I sure wish I’d had this tutorial then. I had quite a difficult time with the corners.

  • Shanley,

    Dining room chairs like this generally require about 1/2 yard per seat, so you’d need 4 yards to be on the safe side. You could possibly squeak it out of 3 yards.

  • I recently did some craigslist chairs with a curved back, decided to take the challenge using only a staple gun, scissors and my iron! oh man it was hard, i googled tutorials but found none for a curved back (mid-century style) i look forward to the tutorial on here since the job i did is…. uhmmmmmm, not to be looked at up close to say the least.

  • I love this pattern!! I have always wanted to do this, and my current dining chairs are a plain brown leather, so I may just have to spice things up a bit with some re-upholstered cushions. Thanks for posting this how-to!

  • I see that you have not used an air compressor in this one but have an air compressor as a basic tool for upholstery on your other post. What are air compressors for?

  • Bibby,

    The staple gun I use is pneumatic, which means it must have pressurized air to operate. That’s what the air compressor is for. You can use an electric stapler, if that is more accessible. I have added that to my list of materials since I did use it for this project.

  • Exactly what is the “foam” you used for part of the cushion? I’m looking in craft stores and having a hard time finding something. Is there another or more specific name for it? Also, have you ever redone an antique chair that didn’t have the wood bottom to it, but had springs instead? I took mine apart to get an idea and all the padding junk I ripped out looked just like your pic’s except there was no wood piece on the bottom – all the padding was just on top of springs.

  • Can you please share any information you have about the table in the photo?
    I am interested in finding some salvage iron or metal pieces to use as legs on an old art table. The leg work in the photo is what I have in mind,

  • I also need to know how to deal with a chair seat that does not have a wood center, just springs. The springs are not staying in place. Can I just replace them with a plywood center?
    Thanks for the information about the St.Cecilia poster. Where is Hotel St. Cecilia?

  • Thank you so much for the tutorial! I scored a mid-century dining set and was a bit apprehensive about reupholstering the chairs. This tutorial definitely rocks!

    Curious though about the upholstery foam you used – what was the thickness? My chairs are similar in shape to the ones in the tutorial, and I’d love to try and replicate the exact “plumpness” of the cushions. Have an idea how much batting to use to make the dome shape, but wasn’t sure if there’s a particular thickness one should use for the foam (guessing the Dacron will also add a layer of fluff right?).

  • Thank you for the great tutorial. What if once I’ve finished in step #2, I’m left with a wood board with a 12″ center cut out (like a square hole)? Then atop it is a stretchy rubbery substance stapled to the board. It appears the purpose is so the seat has some bounce in the center for comfort. This stretchy rubbery substance needs replacing and I don’t know what it is called or where to purchase it. If I cannot identify/find it, I feel I should have the boards recut without the middle cut out. Please shed some light on this seat bottom, as I’ve never seen one like it and I have 8 chairs to reupholster.

  • Absolutely perfect….. Visual tutorials are wonderful. Not everyone can read english, But everyone can understand visual instructions. Thanks a Million.

  • Cathy,
    A regulator is a long metal stick with a flat end and a needle-like end. It’s used for tucking in strings and fabric in tight areas, especially in pleats. Below the materials list (above), there’s a link to Upholstery Basics: Tool Time where you can see an image of the regulator (#14).

  • Great tutorial – thank you! Just curious what thickness foam you used? My local store had 1″ and 2″ varieties. The 1″ seemed a little thin, and now that I have the 2″ stuff home, it looks like it might be too much. Thanks!

    • I am recovering our eat in kitchen chairs and was told by the upholsterer that they normally use 1″ firm cushion for dining room chairs. By the time you wrap them in dacron (and in the case of ours, put a muslin cover around that before you put on the upholstery cover (our cushion covers have a zipper at the back vs attached to the chair the way this example shows) it’s probably thicker than you imagine when you just look at the foam.

  • I know this might sound cheap, but I ran across an incredible vintage outdoor lantern on a hard rubbish
    set on the weekend! Now I am in search of wrought iron outdoor
    chairs to match. You know exactly what they say, one mans garbage
    can be another mans prize!

  • I can’t thank-you enough for this fantastic step-by-step tutorial, especially how to get the corners done properly! I found a pair of 60s era beechwood kitchen stools with tatty seat covers in a charity shop yesterday-a steal at £2. I had some red poppy tablecloth vinyl left from a previous project (aprons and small appliance covers) but was having a terrible time getting those corners right. Well, the stools now look amazing thanks solely to your tute. Really, the recover now looks professionally done. Thank-you!

  • Thank you for an excellent tutorial? I have refinished a small, wood sewing chair but do not have the original seat for it. What type of wood and construction do You recommend for building seat base that will be upholstered?

  • My question is where do you get your seat cushion foam and how did you have to pay for it per square feet

  • What density foam do you use? 1 or 2 inch?
    I have no place to buy some materials you use so I have these questions.
    I also need to replace the back of the chair.
    Do I use less dense foam? Or the same as the bottom?

    Thanks, have to do this before Thanksgiving!

  • Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial! I’ve been given 6 dining chairs by a family member and they are in desperate need of some TLC (25 years of being sat on has left some large dents!) I really wanted to do it myself but had no idea where to start so thank you for the confidence boost! Just 1 question: my seats pop out but when the old fabric and stuffing is removed, it is a simple hollow frame – any suggestions how I keep the foam popping out the bottom?!

  • Hello,
    Very helpful!!!
    I want to use same methods and make headboard. Where can I find form and Dacron?
    Thank you,

  • I just reupholstered my six 100-year old dining room chairs. I followed your directions exactly. And I am so incredibly happy with the result, after beginning the project by tearing off five layers of dilapidating fabric and stuffing. They’re beautiful now. Thank you for giving me the confidence and tools to reupholster them myself.

    • You missed something…. by the photos, you did it but you didn’t explain it; After you have traced around the cushion’s wood foundation onto the foam, you take your carving knife and cut the foam (which works great but is a bit overkill with foam that thin….a large shears works equally well, if not better for this project) but you cut about 1/2″ outside the line on the foam. You did it…give or take, but didn’t mention or explain it. – Robert

  • Dumb question. after you added all the batting and fabric, how do you know where the original screw holes are?!

    • Lacey, that is a very good question, because it is very frustrating when you go to screw on the seat and all that material gets in the way! Its not such a big issue until you try to remove the seat again, which will be very hard to do, because of all the materials that are tangled up in the threads of the screw! I’ve been there! When I do a project, I have to have the presence of mind to mark the holes, and most of the time I’m too excited to finish the job to remember to do it. To Mark the holes, on the back of the board, draw a pencil line or arrow below the staple line, where it wont be covered by the materials, indicating where the holes are. Then go back after each layer is stapled down and cut away the material with a sharp Exacto, or tiny scissors. As for the dust cover, it’s thin enough that it won’t be an issue when you install the seat. Or, you can put the seat in place after you’re done covering it and go through the holes with a white colored pencil and mark the holes. Then remove the seat and cut out the holes that way, but that may be harder to do at that point with all of the layers to go through at one time, and the hole may not be large enough to accommodate the pencil. I hope that helps!

  • Grace, if my husband would let me, I’d be a chair hoarder, do you know what I mean? I Love the fabric you chose for your Klismos chairs! I just wish that design was more comfortable to sit in. I would love to get my upholstering hands on a Loling chair or my favorite chair, the Hepplewhite chair!

  • Great tutorial. I need help repairing chair covers, top and bottom. The tops and bottoms are worned ,turned and everything else. Present fabric is black faux seude. Please help.

  • When I removed my old cushion , there was no batting around the foam. Is it necessary to put batting on? Thanks.

  • I’m trying not to waste money or eco-unfriendly foam. After cutting 4 of my dining room chair seat replacements from a 24″x 76″ foam slab, I will have an 8″ x 76″ strip left over. Is it a good idea to make one seat cushion out of 2 eight inch pieces? Individual foam seat cushions seem to cost at least $7 locally. Shipping from on-line sources ads $4 per cushion.

  • You did a great job! They look wonderful, and I love the look and colors of the whole area – thank you so much for sharing. You have inspired me to do the same to my dining room chairs, they are sadly in need!

  • Oh great tutorial, is what i need to start with my new house, just buying a second hand dining table but fabric is so horrible, now my question do you have a tutorial to do the backrest?
    Thanks

  • I have just gotten frustrated trying to do this, as my dinning chair cushions are 3 times as thick and have what feels like sinuous springs. I have not ripped off the original fabric to verify and glad I didn’t. I have and additional contributing factor to the frustration, in that I only have manual heavy duty stapler to work with. The frustration is the corners! The seat tapers from the ~3″ center to ~1.25″ at the corners and then around to the back. As a result, the fabric wants to gap and I can not seem to get “nice” corners.
    Can you provide a hint on how to get it to look nice?

  • I have 4 very old chairs dining [ 100 + years old ]. They have had many kinds of seats over the years. There is no board but a hole with webbing stretched over the hole then cushioning on top. The fabric is attached over the padding to the wood on the top of the seat with decorative tacks. Do you have any instructions for this type of seating?

  • I’d like to know if you put the cotton batting on the board and then the form on top of it or is it vice versus?

  • I’ve followed the directions and have used 2″ high density foam and cushion wrap. I’ve stretched and stapled the fabric as tightly as I can. However, when I sit on the chair, the foam still gives way and I feel like I’m sitting on the wood itself…with very little padding. I’ve tried a number of different upholstery foams and they all have the same problem. What can I change?

  • Great instructions! Thank you so much!
    My question is about comfort. I removed my probably 1950’s Heywood Wakefield dining room chair covers and replaced the petrified batting with 1″ high density foam and of course new Dacron, with the addition of new upholstery covering. They look beautiful, but not so comfortable! I don’t want to go much higher on the foam because it will change the look of the chairs. I also didn’t use batting for the same reason. Here’s the problem- they used to be very comfortable. I sat in one of the new ones this morning and got a backache! Any ideas? I’ve only covered two to of the 6, which is good. I’ve even contemplated putting the foam and Dacron over the old stuff. Thank you for any ideas!

  • This has been very helpful, thank you.I ordered my material from fabrics.com it was much more affordable and arrived within a few day.The rest of my supplies I got at Joann’s.I love it there and they try every way possible to save you money.

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